Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Hurricane Katrina

The situation in Louisiana and Mississippi is looking increasingly desperate. There is talk of many hundreds dead in New Orleans, martial law has had to be imposed and most of the city is underwater. For once I feel a personal connection to the tragedy as we visited New Orleans as part of our big fly-drive tour of the US a few years ago and I was very taken with the city, particularly its older areas. From the varied, vibrant French Quarter to the peaceful, olde worlde feel of the Garden District it was a beautiful place and one I would go back to. It is sad to think of it as drowned now. I hope they can recover and rebuild.

Planning in the heat

It was a fairly busy day at work today but very productive for all that. Sid and I had a sit down strategy meeting and got all the nagging issues focussed and organised, which meant I could place a couple of orders this afternoon to keep the interesting work ticking over for the next couple of months. So, a good day.

A bit too hot though! The postponed lunch with Owen had me walking over Blackfriars Bridge into The City and I was clammy by the time I got there: Too hot and too humid. I believe the temperature peaked at 32°C today.

Incidentally, speaking of Owen, following yesterday’s talk of venomous things, those of you who are not afraid of spiders may like to check out this on my photoblog.

The Virtual Bookshelf blog

Jessica has a blog! Regular readers may know Rod & Jess, old friends from University, who also live in London. Jess commented on one of my entries this morning and I followed the link back to find she has a blog of her own. Added to Blogs I Read! Go check it out – and her website too if you want books!

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Heroics and Venomous Things

Fairly regular day today: Did more heroic network route organisation, much to the acclaim of members of our Santiago Office currently working in Colombia. Finally cleared away the last of the mess of last weekend’s rewiring (okay, so it took a week, but it was out of sight!)

I was supposed to be having lunch with Owen but he called me at the last minute to postpone: A customer had (allegedly) found something venomous in some produce they had bought at the retailer for which he works. As the leader of the team which deals with such incidents he had his hands full, so we rearranged for tomorrow (when the venomous thing will hopefully have been located and stepped on (or disproved) and the panic will be over.) He did however keep me apprised of the goings on throughout the afternoon which was most entertaining.*

Claire cooked some (too much, actually) tagliatelle for dinner tonight and we chatted for a while about stuff. It started off with her fretting over what to wear for the first day at her new job but ended up as a discussion of interpersonal communications in small/medium enterprises.

Spent the rest of the evening researching a comment for Charlie Foxtrot’s latest post before realising the time and heading for bed.


* Yes, that paragraph is deliberately vague. The incident in question is, strictly speaking, company confidential so the details have been obscured to protect my source from googling.

EDIT: Oh, no, I can't believe I spelt venomous wrong in the title! Now corrected.

Monday, August 29, 2005

...So I went shopping instead.

Not wanting to waste such a lovely sunny Bank Holiday Monday, I determined I was going to cycle over to Hampton Court and visit the Palace this afternoon. I got the Transport For London journey planner to give me a cycle-only route – although because I didn’t want to print out a twelve-page PDF of the route, I had to make do with the written instructions I copied and pasted into a text document.

It was a disaster. I was fine for the first mile, but when I got to Wimbledon Common and had to guess which of the numerous tracks and trails was the ‘Horse Ride’ listed on the instructions, it all went to pot. There is a horse track across the common but it’s forbidden to bikes. The various maps which they provide aren’t terribly helpful (there’s no ‘You Are Here’ marks) and none of the interior roads and tracks are signed so you have to guess which one you are on. There are also plenty more tracks in reality than are shown on the map, which further adds to the confusion.

I suppose I failed because I was ill-equipped really; the mini-AtoZ that I carry in my pannier only partly covers the Common and I hadn’t been able to find the separate map book that does cover the area between Wimbledon and Kew, so I couldn’t even navigate my own route to the next named destination.

In the end, after an hour trekking back and forth, I gave up and went home.

A bit later I went to Sainsburys and did some grocery shopping.

That was my Bank Holiday.


Behind Closed Doors

My bike had been making strange squeaking noises on the way home on Friday, so this morning I got it out and gave it a wash down and some lube on the critical junctures. As I was doing this, our downstairs neighbours Warren and (presumably) Mrs. Warren, a late-twenties or early-thirties couple, were getting ready to go out. Having loaded their MPV up to the gunnels they got in and drove off.

Less than a minute later they were back. Maybe they’d left the gas on.

Then a minute or so later they were back again (perhaps the iron had been on too?)

The third return trip had me wondering what was going on… In all they made five returns before finally apparently starting their journey in earnest, the last one to pick up what looked like a travel blanket (where are they going? The sun is shining brightly and the temperature is 24°C out there and still climbing! What on earth do they need a blanket for??)

It made me think of a comment a former boss of mine had once made; you never really know what’s happening in people’s lives.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Geeks and Queens

We’ve had a fairly quiet day today. Not too long a lie-in this morning, then after pottering around the house for an hour or so, we headed off into town. I needed to call into work to do some tape shuffling and Brett needed to get the power supply for his PowerBook replaced, so had to go to the Apple shop on Regent Street. We had brunch at Balans in Soho on the way.

Both the food and the waitress were good – I think we rather lucked-out with the waitress as the rest of the staff seemed to be a gang of condescending queens – and Soho was quiet so the meal was quite relaxed.

Afterwards I got to watch tourists check their email on top-of-the-range Macs while Brett sorted his PSU. Kind of gutting really – all that fantastic kit; cameras, synthesisers, sound systems and everyone goes straight for Hotmail!

We detoured to Forbidden Planet on the way home where Brett found the third book in the Saga of the Exiles – a great Sci-Fi/Fantasy series I’ve had on my shelves since I was a student, but many years ago I lent the last two books to someone and never got them back. They are now out of print, so we were lucky to find the missing third volume today! (Jessica had previously found the concluding book some months ago.)

Spent the remaining afternoon and evening on the sofa being geeky.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Saturday Afternoon Review

I haven’t blogged much this week. I haven’t had much to blog about. Work has been pretty busy, keeping me occupied during the day. My evenings have been rather unproductive too, mostly in front of the TV or online, commenting on blogs. (Have a look at these: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 if you’re bothered to see what I’ve been saying.)

My parents are going to be visiting us for Rosie’s birthday – well, okay, they have a produce show in the Home Counties in which they’re exhibiting that week, so it kind of makes sense while they’re in the area… but at least we get to spend some time together and do touristy stuff with them. It means I don’t get to do the Peak District Cycle Ride I was planning on, but then it was going to be a stretch to get up there on time anyway.

Claire, a friend Rowan’s is lodging with us until the end of September, while she restarts her life in the UK after a year or so living and working in New York. So far her first impressions of the flat are that it is bigger and better than what she was expecting (although, after a penthouse apartment on 6th Avenue, I think she might just be being polite) and that the silence is freaking her out; instead of sirens and people getting mugged, all she can hear out of her bedroom window here is birdsong and the occasional late-night Jumbo on approach to Gatwick.

Meanwhile, Rosie herself is heading off to the Edinburgh Festival with Joe. Consequently I was driving to Heathrow at 5am this morning – although at that time of day it is hardly a hassle. I think we made it there in about half an hour, which is at most half of what it would take any later in the day. After I’d left them at the drop-off point though, Joe rummaged in his luggage and presented me with a bottle of cranberry vodka for my troubles, which was nice of him. On top of that, I was able to come back home, climb back into bed and appreciate my Saturday morning lie-in all the more for having already done stuff.

As for the long weekend, well, according to my diary it’s called the Late Summer Holiday but according to the weather forecast it’s more likely going to feel like the Early Autumn Holiday. Brett and I don’t have anything particular lined up, so I think it’s going to be a weekend of domestic chores. He doesn’t even get the Bank Holiday off on Monday – he’s back in Sweden. Hey Ho. At least the weather is due to warm up again during the week.

Finally, on a blog-related note: I have added Mark Maness’ blog, Left Field Perspectives, to my sidebar, as a blog I read. I fundamentally disagree with pretty much everything he says, but I have to admit I keep on reading it just to expand my horizons. He comes at things from a totally opposite direction to my own philosophies so I’m finding it quite educational.

HM Forces on Parade

In the news today, this article left me amazed. I hadn’t realised our military was becoming so progressive that it would join a gay pride parade. Only a few weeks ago, when I saw the Swedish Armed Forces float in the Stockholm Pride Parade, I had believed this impossible.

Having been friends with a squaddie and a naval officer who were gay and seen how the military attitude had affected them – and in the former case, seriously screwed with his head – I feel a sense of relief that this is happening. I doubt that legalisation has resulted in a revolution of attitudes in the forces but, just as in the country at large, the slow process of acceptance and integration has begun. We are on the right track.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005


I was going to do a bit of a political post today about the decline of the American Empire, but to be honest I’m just not in the mood. I think all the late nights and early mornings are taking their toll in that respect. So instead of expounding, I’ll invite you to have a look at the article (here) yourself and the comments which follow it.

Instead, tonight’s post is going to be somewhat lighter-weight; starting with the conclusive proof that TV evangelists are complete wackos. Pat Robertson, who has created a massive television ministry in the US, yesterday proclaimed on national TV that the United States should assassinate the president of Venezuela, essentially because he’s not a supporter of the US. It’s strange; I am not usually to be found arguing for a return to ‘traditional values’ but I have to admit Thou Shalt Not Kill always seemed like a good one to me!

Understandably, the US Government has distanced itself from the comments – after all if it were open season on democratically-elected, but unpopular, presidents of American nations I suspect the South Lawn would be littered with snipers…

Robertson is today trying to walk-back his comments, saying that by ‘take him out’ he actually meant ‘kidnap’ (yeah, right!) which presumably, in his universe, is also an acceptable way of treating with the Head of State of a sovereign nation.

Indeed; another one on the crazy-American list.

Today’s really big news, however, has to be the return of K-9 to Doctor Who. Yeayyyyyyyyy!!!! The BBC released the news this morning. I guess this probably doesn’t mean much to my US readers, but the robotic dog K9 was one of the icons of my childhood. I even tried to build one out of old cardboard boxes when the Doctor Who comic published the design drawings. Alas it didn’t come to much. But now, maybe they’ll start merchandising K9 and I can get a talking model to sit on the mantelpiece opposite my Dalek! Hehehe! Suddenly I’m ten years old again!

Finally, back in the adult world (or are we??), this from The Register caught my eye. The first surprise was people wanting a 99p coin – the thought had never even crossed my mind. Although, maybe that’s because I’ve never had a problem with 1p coins accumulating in my pocket until I have five or ten of them and can put them towards buying something; I certainly would never throw them away. That was the second surprise; I can’t believe people really do routinely throw money away no matter how little it is worth, but apparently a good portion of people do. Talk about the ‘convenience society’!

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Coat Hangers

Well, the long hours I put in over the weekend proved worth it as this morning there was not a single problem reported following the work we had done. I’m pretty tired though and was getting quite grumpy by the end of the day.

Brett is in Stockholm again. It feels like I hardly saw him this weekend. Hopefully next weekend will be better – although I don’t know if Sweden get a Bank Holiday too…

Watching TV tonight saw an interesting trailer for a new series on Sky One; Threshold. Between that and Lost, it seems the quality of TV may be picking up again after the summer doldrums.

Having spent a while lately arguing politics with Charlie Foxtrot, I spent this evening writing about religion on another of the blogs I surfed into randomly and decided to keep an eye on; Mark Maness is quite an outspoken blogger whose every post seems to evoke an incredulous response from me.

Anyway, I am tired now so it’s time for bed.

In fact it was time for bed several hours ago, but I am a sad, nerdy Internet-addict who doesn't know when to stop…

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Jeremy's BBQ

After yesterday’s busy day in the office, Brett and I had been invited to a barbeque at Jeremy F’s, one of our Chorus friends. For some reason I had come back from work absolutely exhausted. An hour’s nap before we left for the BBQ actually made matters worse so I was a bit of a shambling zombie as Brett steered me to Jeremy’s house near Clapham Common.

The exercise, plus the sugar and fluids in the Dr. Pepper I started gulping down on arrival, seemed to perk me up a bit and I had lovely evening. I already knew about half of the people there, they being mostly fellow choristers, but the only person I really got chatting to was Jeremy’s very engaging landlord, Peter. He has a very lovely house with lots of period (although stylistically eclectic) features.

John W & Rich C were there too and it was lovely to see Rich looking so well after his recent operations. Seeing him again suddenly reminded me (guiltily) of how busy I’ve been this last month or so. After we saw Rich in hospital in mid-July I had been determined to do some more visiting to break the monotony of recuperation, but all of a sudden it’s a month later, Rich is mostly recovered and I still haven’t been over to see him again.

The barbeque rated quite highly as these things go; there seemed to be just the right amount and variety of food on offer, all of which was well prepared/cooked and very tasty. There was also no shortage of drink - although I don't think we were drinking that heavily (unless Jeremy was being very fastidious in clearing away the empties!) The space was just right for the number of people he had invited too. Unfortunately though my fatigue caught up with me again around 11pm and we caught a taxi home which was hideously expensive, but a much appreciated luxury. I fell into bed and was asleep virtually as soon as my head hit the pillow.

Perversely, I was wide-awake at 05:45 this morning.

Perhaps recent days have built-up more stress than I’d realised.

Anyway, only really half a day’s work to do today and I have brunch with Brett and my sister lined up too, along with something cultural (although we’re not exactly sure what) this evening.


It’s a busy weekend for our company’s IT. There is lots of work going on in our server/comms room; our telephone exchange is being upgraded and, as part of that, it is being rewired to consolidate it from two six feet high cabinets into one. The redundant cabinet is being replaced with one that can contain rack-mount servers which will release a lot of valuable floor-space.

Because of all this work going on, we’ve taken the opportunity to power down most of the network and do the annual maintenance of the servers (which actually mostly involves just taking a vacuum cleaner to their innards!)

A side benefit of having a long period of official ‘downtime’ is that I can research some problems which (because they involve frequent reboots of the firewall) would otherwise be glacially slow to solve. (Because of the disruption it causes to people working in the office, rebooting the firewall can only be done out-of-hours and after lots of advance notice to our remote users.) Sure enough, in less than an hour’s work yesterday I solved a problem that had been bugging me for months and also, inadvertently, found a fix to an issue the company have had for years! Working out something like that, after so long, is a great feeling.

Today is mostly going to be spent reversing the shut down and making sure everything is working again ready for Monday morning.

Redundancy is a Good Thing

Friday was a bit of a bad day; as I walked into the office at 8:30 on Friday morning, the first words that greeted me were, ‘the file server is down.’ Sure enough our aging main server was flourishing the Blue Screen of Death (which it has done before on occasion) but this time rebooting it didn’t make the problem go away. Nope; it got most of the way through loading Windows and then blue-screened again, complaining that it couldn’t find the disk where Windows was located. Go figure.

Fortunately the problem was only with the system drive, not the array of disks that holds the data, and we had a new system unit in testing, due to replace the one that failed in a week or so. It wasn’t a big job to get it ready to go live a little bit early and before too long we had a functioning file server again.

One of the projects I am working on at the moment is replacing most of our key server hardware and this is a case in point. When the current systems were built some years ago, no redundancy was incorporated. Consequently if a disk drive fails, the server fails. If a power supply fails, the server fails. One of my tasks since I’ve joined the company has been to increase the resilience of the core infrastructure like this, so all of the new servers have lots of redundancy built-in.

In future, if a disk drive fails, rather than bringing down the server there will be a second disk drive which mirrors the contents of the first and carries on when the first drive fails. The IT team get an email telling them of the failure, pick a new drive from stock (another new innovation), and replace the failed unit. All the while the server is up and running. When you replace the failed drive the server detects the new disk and, in the background, copies the contents of the working disk on to it, so once again you have two disks working in parallel in case one of them fails.

The users never even know there’s been a problem.

That's how we like it!

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

An Improved Shopping Experience

The Sainsbury’s where I shop is ‘reinvigorating’. A section of the store is behind boards and there are ‘artists impressions’ of how it will look after the work is complete. I must say, Sainsbury’s are doing wonders! They are removing all of the spillages and crumpled packets, warehouse-cages blocking the aisles, grumpy old ladies, rushing yuppies and stressed mothers with their bored pre-teens in tow. All of these terribly unfashionable things are being replaced with state-of-the-art beautiful people and wide, brightly-lit uncluttered aisles full of tidily stacked products.

What’s more, Sainsbury’s beneficence doesn’t stop there. Not content with turning the shopping experience into an earthly nirvana, they are doing the same with the car park! It’s true. I’ve seen the artist’s impression of how it will look. See here! Look closely at the picture (you may have to click to enlarge) and you will see that, as well as giving the tired old car park a lick of paint and some fancy bright new lighting, they are also demolishing the rest of London so that one’s view the pastoral idyll that is England won’t be spoiled. How thoughtful is that! I can’t wait for it all to be finished…

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Dinner at Lindsay House

Another very busy day at work; we are in the midst of a number of projects at the moment so, while everyone else seems to be on holiday and the Helpdesk is deathly quiet, I am feeling the absence of my network manager (off getting married!) and my boss (although Sid was back this afternoon) as I have a steady list of tasks requiring my attention. Fortunately I seem to be keeping on top of them and they are all jobs worth doing – in fact I proposed most of them – so I suppose I shouldn’t complain.

Brett called me later in the afternoon to talk about plans for Christmas and we agreed that we were running out of options and should go to Texas for Christmas and New Year, despite the hideous cost of flying in peak season. It will be nice to have a warm Christmas I think and from what I’ve seen of Brett’s family I expect it will be quite a festive time. I am pretty sure my parents weren’t expecting us in St. Helens for Christmas anyway, as I had previously mentioned we were likely to go to Texas. We will get to see them for the walking weekend in the Lakes in October and hopefully can persuade them to come and visit London at some point too.

Anyway, tonight after work, instead of going home and frittering the evening away, I had dinner lined up with Ping and John W at The Lindsay House in Soho. It was a lovely evening in an understated kind of way. The restaurant is a converted Soho townhouse so the dining areas are quite small and intimate. The service was attentive and friendly, although I think our table waiter may have been new to the job as he felt a little unpractised, but both the Maitre D’Hotel and the Sommelier knew their stuff.

The food came in fairly small, but ultimately sufficient, portions and each course was preceded by a mixed plate of Hors d'oeuveres. I had the special Clams concoction to start, followed by a truly melt-in-the-mouth selection of duck for my main course. For dessert, we all plumped for chocolate cannelloni with black cherries and shared a scoop of the chef’s speciality; horseradish and lemon ice cream (which was very pleasant and subtler than I expected, having had horseradish sauce in mind!) All of which was washed down by a delicious, but not overpowering, red wine and accompanied by the companionship of friends.

A lovely evening.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Move Along

No profound thoughts today. Nothing exciting happening in my life either. Move along; there's nothing to see here.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

The Weekend

Blimey, the weekend is nearly over! So what have I done? Well, not a lot really. Friday I made it back from Edinburgh in good time to do what I needed at work before coming home.

About half of the group who had originally said they would come for poker had cried off at some point during the week, so in the end it was just Brett and I, John M and Gaetan playing. I think that was too few to make it an interesting game as there was too little money on the table; no-one won big and everyone played cautiously. John M took the pot home in the end.

On Saturday, I was feeling quite rough and so slouched around all morning without achieving anything. I had a nap in the afternoon and didn’t wake up feeling any better so began to suspect my hangover might actually be the start of a cold. Felt well enough to head out for dinner and a movie though. We saw Charlie and The Chocolate Factory which I found very entertaining. I haven’t read the book in years, but from what I remember the movie is a very faithful adaptation. Even the backstory for Willy Wonka (which I think was added for the film) fit quite nicely. Johnny Depp was superb doing a somewhat dark, Wacko Jacko take on the reclusive chocolate magnate.

Today I was still feeling rough. We had a light brunch in the village before I went to pick up the car from the Long Stay car park at Heathrow and Brett went for a workout and to pick up his comics. This afternoon was mostly spent on the sofa watching assorted TV and napping. I spent a little while polishing my latest response to Charlie Foxtrot in our ongoing discussion (initial post and comments) about the war in Iraq. Rosie popped in early this evening with her mysterious friend Joe in tow, so it was nice to meet him even though the house was in a shambles as we hadn’t really cleared up all weekend.

Back to work tomorrow. Bleurgh.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Homeward Bound

So, despite all the assurances, another supplier’s supplier has let him/us down. No tape drive arrived this morning. To give them their due, though, they did offer to pay for a bike courier to get the drive to us today Alas, even coming from their most northerly warehouse, the bike wasn’t going to arrive before 4 or 5 o’clock this afternoon and I couldn’t wait that long.

So I was left to tell the, now thoroughly disgruntled, office staff that I was going to return home with their backup tapes and restore their data to London and push the most critical stuff up the wire to their server over the weekend. I really hate to think how much this debacle has cost the company in lost man-hours!

On top of that, yesterday’s disruption to BA flights had the knock-on effect that today most of BA’s staff and equipment were in the wrong location, so more flights (including my own) were cancelled. Hence, I’m sitting on a GNER train struggling to get any response out of their onboard “Mobile Office” WiFi network, which to be honest is complete crap; slower than dial-up and constantly failing to return pages.

At least I’ll be home in good time to see Brett and enjoy tonight’s poker game!

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Surely not Seventy-Two Hours??

OK, now it’s getting old.

The tape drive that is causing the big hold-up was promised to arrive here today, but this morning we got an email from the supplier saying that his supplier hadn’t got it dispatched in time, so it wouldn’t be here until tomorrow. To say that I was annoyed would be an understatement. It’s a huge waste of everyone’s time and I am thoroughly fucked-off by it.

There’s stuff I should be doing both at work and at home that I can’t do while I’m stuck here. I’m out of fresh clothes to wear. To top it all off, there is escalating industrial action at Heathrow tonight, so I might have to get the train home tomorrow instead of flying.

Brett called earlier which cheered me up somewhat. He was out with some guys from work and they were talking about me so he gave me a call to see how I was. Even so, I didn’t fancy going out to see any shows tonight; I was too grumpy for that. Instead I ate pizza in my hotel room and watched TV (which was pretty dire – I’d forgotten how Tivo let’s you avoid the dross!) Hopefully a good night’s sleep will get rid of this funk and I’ll have a good day tomorrow, ready for poker tomorrow night.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Now Aiming For Just Forty-Eight Hours

For those of you playing along with the question at the end of my earlier post, the correct answer was in fact ten minutes. Yes, that’s all it took for my best laid plans to go awry! For the winner of this little competition, if you will make yourself known, as your prize for guessing correctly I will happily regale you with the full details of why I am staying up in Edinburgh until at least tomorrow evening.

So anyway, once I’d done all I could do in the office, I went out, had something to eat, enjoyed the view and checked out some of the Edinburgh Festival; I picked a couple of shows at random, paid my money and sat down to watch.

The first show was a version of play, Abigail’s Party. While this production had some quite good characterisations, it also had some pretty clunky ones too and I sometimes felt I was watching a school production. Nevertheless it still entertained and had me chuckling in quite a few places.

After that, I was aiming for ‘Da Bitchy Code’ a Dublin stand-up comic’s take on The Da Vinci Code, but I got out of Abigail’s Party too late to get in, so I had a look at the adjacent venue and went to see Scotland 4 – Australia 1 instead. Very entertaining and with some really fun songs (particular favourites being ‘Love is for cunts’ and ‘Porn,’ a rewrite of the Natalie Imbruglia hit…) All performed in some very atmospheric vaulted cellars just off Cowgate.

I had forgotten how much there is to the Cowgate/Grassmarket area of Edinburgh – the last few times I’ve been, I’ve been pretty much entirely in the New Town, north of the castle. I must persuade Brett to come for a long weekend sometime and try out some of the pubs, eateries and venues…

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

On Arrival

Well, I made it here uneventfully. Being on a flexible ticket gave me access to the BA lounge at Heathrow which made the waiting more pleasant – and saved me buying my own dinner!

Flight was uncrowded and uneventful, as was the taxi to the hotel; a lovely Georgian conversion on one of Edinburgh’s major crescents. I have a family room all to myself, so it’s spacious, and one of the friendly locals has even made wireless Internet access available to all-comers. Now there’s grand Highland Hospitality for you!

Twenty-Four Hours in Bonnie Scotland

I should be careful what I wish for. Only a couple of days after wishing I could do more travelling, I find myself sitting in an airport lounge again.

Yesterday our Edinburgh Office reported that their server was making a loud buzzing noise. In IT terms, a buzzing server is a Bad Thing. Unless you ask them to, servers shouldn’t buzz. When they start doing it without being asked then there are really only two possible cause; electrical (usually doesn’t last too long before your server sets the office on fire or electrocutes the person investigating) or mechanical (something is catching against something else, which wasn’t happening before, so probably means something has failed/is failing.)

Sure enough, this morning the server died with the infamous Windows’ Blue Screen of Death, from which it would not recover.

The Edinburgh server was getting a bit long in the tooth and was scheduled for replacement later this year anyway, so it seemed best to make an opportunity out of a crisis and, after a couple of quick calls to our hardware supplier, a brand new server will be delivered to Edinburgh first thing tomorrow morning. I will be there to meet it, having paid through the nose (well, okay, the company paid through the nose) for a flexible flight and a hotel room in central Edinburgh during the Festival.

All being well, though, I will have a nice straight forward day, configuring the server and restoring its data, thereby becoming a hero to the staff in the office, yet still have time for a relaxed dinner and an early evening stroll through the Princes Street Gardens before a timely taxi ride back to the airport and the flight home.

Would any of you care to make a small wager with me about how long it will take for that idyllic plan to go wrong…?

Discovery Touchdown

Good to see the Space Shuttle Discovery back on the ground; we watched its descent at work on the BBC website. I just wish they could work out what needs doing to stop all this foam falling off the fuel tank during take-off. I know the orbiter is due to be retired in 2010, but in the meantime it’s got a lot of important work to do if the space programme isn’t to collapse and you can’t afford every mission to be like walking on eggshells.

I want to be able to stand on Mars before I die!

Monday, August 08, 2005

Nineteen Eighty-FWar on Terror?

It was back to reality today; back to work. I had a pleasant lunch with my sister at the local gastropub though. On our way back to our offices, she mentioned a comment she had heard; a comparison of the War on Terror and the setting of the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four; a never-ending war between the home nation and a ruthless, but constantly changing enemy. The population accept ever fewer rights and harsher living conditions because they are told it is necessary to win the war. History is constantly tweaked to ensure that the war continues to be justified…

I really ought to read the book, just to find out for myself!

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Stockholm - Day Three

The Vasa Museum was a revelation. Everyone who had been to Stockholm had said, “Oh, go and see the boat!” Brett had the impression that it was a Viking longboat and I hadn’t done any research of my own, so it was a bit of a surprise when it turned out to be a very well preserved, very ornate Man of War!

We spent a good couple of hours in the museum and I took quite a few photographs, although the lighting was dim. When I get some time, I’ll post them on the photoblog.

Once we had had enough though, we took a walk along the shore to the amusement park, Gröna Lund, which was giving free entry to anyone who had a weekend pride-pass. And they had certainly put the flags out for ‘Gay Day!’ Apart from all of the actual Pride Flags on the flag poles, the whole seafront walkway railing had the pride rainbow running along it. There were lots of gay couples and groups wearing their wristbands, but also lots of families out with the kids and not batting an eyelid; all very positive. I wasn’t expecting too much but it was closer to a mini-Alton Towers than the travelling fairgrounds you find at events in the UK.

The Haunted House was quite literally a scream; as well as good effects, they also had people in costume both in the tableaux and wandering around the house, sneaking up on you or suddenly coming to life in what you thought was a scene set up with mannequins. The Fun House was great too – plenty of stuff going on. Brett and I were like little kids again!

But after a final rollercoaster ride, it was time to head back to the airport. The trip was very smooth as we made good connections from park to bus to train. The airport felt pretty miserable though, as suddenly the happy, relaxed weekend felt like it was over and we were separating again.

The flight itself was timely, if crowded and I got back to the UK a little after 8pm and was home by 10.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Stockholm - Day Two again

After a brief break at home we headed out to dinner at the little film studios complex near Brett’s apartment, where they have a very good restaurant. The service was friendly and efficient and the food was fine. We had a little wine with our meal and a delightful evening.

A lot of the discussion was based around the future; our lease is up in another nine months so if we want to buy a place, we need to start thinking about it now. At the same time though I was moaning about becoming a desk jockey for the rest of my life and buying a house seemed to add weight to that idea. It would be the ultimate settling down into suburbia; may as well nail the coffin shut now! We talked about instead selling up and using the money and our savings to go off backpacking around the world together. In theory it sounds like a great idea and I would love to do it, but there are practical drawbacks. The possibility of Brett seeking a posting to Beijing came up as a kind of taster, to see how we enjoyed the experience. Maybe we will, maybe we won’t. We need to think this through some more I think.

Stockholm - Day Two

The underground system here is marvellous. Both the trains and the stations are modern and spacious and the ride is incredibly smooth. The mobile system has underground repeaters so you can use your phone on the trains (which is a bit bizarre, since I couldn’t get a signal in Brett’s apartment.) My only complaint is that it’s all painted grey – very dull!

It was another lovely sunny day, so this morning we took the tube down to the harbour this morning and had a boat tour around the various islands that make up Stockholm.

After the tour we headed into the old town to have lunch in the square opposite the Nobel Museum and then headed down to the waterfront again to watch the Pride Parade go by. There are some pictures of the parade in my photoblog if you are interested. As I was watching the parade it occurred to me that I’ve never actually watched the London Pride march, so I’ve no idea how it really compares to Stockholm’s. Two things stood out about today though; firstly, it seemed that the parade was much more for ordinary men and women. There were the usual outrageous drag queens, the body paint, the muscles and the sequinned thongs, but there were quite a few floats, which I think belonged to nightclubs, followed by literally hundreds of people just having a good time.

The other thing that stuck out was that the Armed Forces had a float – something which is currently unthinkable in the UK.

Unfortunately about half-way through the parade, the promised rain arrived. Most of the onlookers had come prepared with umbrellas; the rest of us ran for cover in doorways and nearby bars. It continued with occasional showers all afternoon, but was dry in between times.

The weather didn’t seem to put the crowd off though, there were thousands of people lining the route and it seemed to be a pretty mixed crowd; we started the afternoon standing next to a father who had brought his son and daughter, who both looked pre-teen, to see the parade. That’s the kind of integration and acceptance we need more of in the UK.

We had planned to follow the parade to the Pride Park, but between the weather and the certainty that the park would be packed solid with people, we decided discretion was the better part of valour and went home instead.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Stockholm - Day One

Stockholm is a lovely city. The first impressions were very good; waiting for the bus outside the airport terminal there are woods in the middle distance and what looked like fields (but actually later turned out to be concrete service areas for the airport.) The weather was sunny and comfortably warm, with a few fluffy white clouds in the sky. The environs of the airport were idyllic; lots of trees, mostly a mixture of evergreens, gave it a very Nordic forest feel; very rural. The rest area with the Shell station and attached McDonalds looked totally out of place.

The driver of the airport bus was fluent in English as well as Swedish, but I had got my directions confused and so still managed to get off at the wrong stop and landed in what looked like a Tech park on the outskirts of the city. Fortunately a friendly local at the bus stop pointed me in the direction of the suburban bus service so I only had a twenty-minute wait.

The area where I had ended up had a kind of fond familiarity to it; the large modern architecture with plenty of glass, emblazoned with huge HP, Canon and 3M logos; groups of men in their twenties to forties, dressed mostly in jeans and t-shirts but with a few shirts and trousers, all of them with company ID badges either around their necks or attached to their belts, all heading off to lunch together while earnestly discussing either football or technology. It was all very familiar.

The bus eventually dropped me at the North Station, where Brett met me and took me out for lunch.

In the evening we headed out to the Pride Park (It’s Stockholm’s Gay Pride week this week, culminating in this weekend,) where we bought (rather pricey!) tickets for the three remaining days of the event and had a wander around. The park was pretty busy. They had a couple of stages and the usual selection of food places, ‘gay merchandising’ stalls and ‘community’ tents. The only things that I didn’t see that I would have expected were the ‘club’ tents, run by the big nightclubs. Maybe the club scene isn’t such a major focus in Sweden?

We had a good wander around to check everything out – including the Gay Police Association and a military (recruitment?) information tent. (I seem to recall from somewhere, although I don’t have Internet access as I write, so I can’t confirm it, that Sweden has a total equality policy in its armed forces and openly gay men can serve without issue.)

There were a couple of activity events; a rock climbing wall, a bucking bronco and an arena where you stood on pillars and fought your opponent with padded quarterstaffs. Unfortunately Brett wasn’t up for it… Maybe tomorrow…

En Route to Stockholm

So I’m feeling a bit punch drunk from the late nights and the especially early morning, but so far the trip has been smooth. BA Self-Check-In is a dream compared to the long queues waiting at the BMI desk as I arrived this morning. There was even an unoccupied Exit Row seat, so I shall have my legroom!

The weather is pretty miserable this morning; very grey and rainy, but I gather it is due to clear up for the weekend. Alas the forecast for Stockholm is the reverse; sunny today and rainy for the rest of the weekend, but them’s the breaks I suppose.

They have a trainee barista on at Caffe Nero and the queue is currently twenty-six people long, so I’ve skipped the coffee and am just occupying one of their many empty tables… Unfortunately the promised WiFi signal doesn’t seem to have reached this corner of the terminal, so I’m going to have to wander down the other end and see if I can get online there.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Check Your Sources

It was a mundane day at work today, mostly spent preparing for a sample group to evaluate a new piece of software we are looking to roll-out to the company. Nothing especially exciting to report

This evening, I did come across an interesting post on a blog I read occasionally. It talks about how the media shapes our views and how easy it is to get swept along without ever independently checking the facts of a situation. It is very true. Surfing blogs, you come across so many of them that are simply repeating someone else’s propaganda or slagging off their opponent’s opinions in the most childish ways possible. (Funnily enough, the guy who put up the post linked above first caught my eye with this post which I thought was so infantile that I’d keep an eye on his blog purely for entertainment value! Strange how these things work out, isn’t it?)

So that’s my thought for today; always check your sources and make sure you aren’t making an ass of yourself. The Internet is a wonderful resource for checking facts if you are prepared to put a bit of effort into it.

Right, tomorrow I’m off for a long weekend in Stockholm to visit my man. Grotty early flight, ‘cos I’m a cheapskate who doesn’t want to drive through London in the rush hour, so I’d better go get my bag sorted.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

City of Brighton Gay Men's Chorus

Yesterday evening Ping, John H and I were down in Brighton. We had gone to see the inaugural performance of the City of Brighton Gay Men’s Chorus but got there early so we could try out Momma Cherri’s Restaurant. Momma Cherri’s was a place featured on one of Gordon Ramsey’s “rescue” shows so we weren’t sure what to expect. In the end the food was good, although some of the portions were a bit stingy. The service was very relaxed and informal, which can be both a good and a bad thing. The drinks were rather poor though; we opted for a jug of fresh lemonade which was very bland and mostly sugared water. The cokes we had later also tasted very cheap (they definitely weren’t Coca Cola!)

John H, who was otherwise excellent company, managed to drop one his infamous clangers though; as we were paying the bill a couple arrived asking if they could get a table and, after the hostess had told them they were booked, John said sotto voce “Run, run for your lives!” The couple didn’t hear him but the waitress did – and said so. There was a short silence, during which I simultaneously cursed my English heritage for making me so embarassable and wished that the ground would open up and swallow me. Fortunately we were able to make a sharp exit thereafter…

Then it was a delightful stroll along the Prom, eating ice creams in the evening sunlight and enjoying the scenery, as we made our way to the venue for the show.

Several of the LGMC boys are resident in Brighton, so they were all there, plus David S, who is originally from Brighton, had come down from London to see the show too.

In the end I was very impressed. There were about twenty guys singing. They did some quite vocally tricky numbers but were very tight throughout. I’m not sure that the acoustics did them any favours though, as they sounded a bit muffled from where I was sitting. Their Musical Director was a drag act in the Hinge & Bracket vein which was amusing up to a point, but wasn’t what we had come to hear. I was especially disappointed in the finale, which was three pieces from Les Misérables, when she sang the second piece; I Dreamed a Dream. That would have been so lovely and so appropriate for the Chorus to have sung. Perhaps the fates agreed with me too as, during her rendition, the candles on one of the side displays set something alight and there was a momentary scuffle of attendants and the roar of a CO2 extinguisher being used. Both the dame and the Chorus took it in their stride though and the show came to grand end with One Day More.

If I had to make a criticism of the show it would be that the musical precision, or at least their very strict keeping to meter, lost some of the emotion from the songs. The performance would have had more emotional impact if occasionally they had let a note linger or slowed the tempo a little at the conclusion of the song. Mind you that could also have been due to nerves. I don’t believe many of the performers had sung in public before so I imagine there must have been a lot of nerves on stage last night.

Anyway, they impressed me enough that I will certainly go and see them again. I think they have a bright future ahead of them!

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Forbidden Knowledge

Last year, the software that runs Cisco Systems’ core routers (laymen can read: ‘the software that makes the Internet work’) was stolen and published on the web. (See here.)

Last month a security researcher was scheduled by his company (ISS) to give a talk to a major Internet Security conference about some of the flaws since discovered in that (publicly available) software. At the last moment the company had a change of heart and cancelled the presentation. The researcher felt the flaw was so serious that he resigned his job and gave the presentation anyway, resulting in an injunction being taken out against him talking about the flaw again. (See here.)

I understand that there are all kinds of legal issues about intellectual property rights and licensing restrictions but I wonder if anyone at Cisco thought about the big picture before calling the lawyers.

First of all, the flaw that the researcher was talking about has already been fixed. Secondly, he didn’t give away any source code or details of how to exploit the flaw. Thirdly, a version of the flawed software is already out there for anyone to examine, so any good hacker or terrorist with a desire to do the Internet harm could do the research on their own.

The only things Cisco has achieved with its lawsuit are to give the flaw some serious publicity and to piss-off the people they rely on to point these problems out to them. The security/hacking community are busy doing their own research to find out what Cisco is so paranoid about. You can bet that the criminal/hacking community aren’t sitting on their hands either!

I suppose maybe the publicity will kick-start SysAdmins into applying the fix sooner rather than later, but surely there was a better way of doing that…

EDIT: You can also get an alternative view here. Maybe I am just an 11-year old who wants cookies!

Monday, August 01, 2005

Back in the USSR?

Today I needed to visit the DVLA office in Wimbledon to finally get the car taxed. The theory was that I’d get there for 9am when it opened, do the business and be underway again by 9:15 – after all, I had all the documents I’d need…

I didn’t actually get the disc until 9:50 after a queuing experience which, while not actually unpleasant, somehow made me think about queuing up in Soviet Russia. Don’t get me wrong, all of the staff were very friendly and polite – not an intimidating babushka in sight! However the electronic queuing system wasn’t working, so there was a line of metal chairs opposite the three counters designated for ‘General Licensing & Taxation.’ Every time someone was called forward to the counter, the rest of us had to stand up and move one chair to our left, so that recent arrivals could sit down. People who didn’t actually need to go to the window weren’t allowed in the queue – they had to sit on the chairs behind us, by the window. There was a separate counter, with its own little queue of chairs, for ‘Registration of Overseas Vehicles’ and an entire roped-off section, with unregulated queuing(!) for ‘Diplomatic Licensing’ (I had never realised Wimbledon might warrant such a section!) A chap at the door fielded people to their appropriate lines, or directed them to departments on other floors, and kept the queue regulated.

All very efficient and I suppose contemplating the experience kept my mind off the wait itself, so I shouldn’t complain! At least the car is road-legal again. Next time I shall simply have to get my finger out at the right time and save myself all this hassle.

Apart from that, the day was uneventful. Work went well and I got lots of stuff done (well, okay, I got lots of stuff progressed – most of what I’m doing at the moment is project work which won’t be complete for at least another month or two.)

Because there was no Chorus rehearsal tonight, I had the option of going bowling with some of the Out guys – something which I’ve actually been wanting to do since they first started up the regular sessions – but in the end I just wanted to go home and chill, so that’s what I did.